Going on Guts
Mohican 50 Mile Race Report
(Ultrarunner) Gale A. Connor
When I signed up for this race, many months ago, I never dreamed that I would be undergoing radiation treatments for a recurrence of breast cancer come race day. A few weeks prior, I had gotten permission from the race director to have a pacer. I was nervous about the side effects of the radiation and not sure how it would affect me during the race. I had gone up to Oil Creek for a training run a couple of weeks before the race and started having dizzy spells on the trail. I was alone and it was very frightening. A couple of younger runners came by and observed me sitting on a rock, not looking very well. They walked the almost five miles back to the trailhead with me and I became fast friends with the Mark and his awesome dog, Rocky.
I had all but stopped training due to the demands that the radiation was putting on my time and body. At this point I didn’t even know if I could do the distance. I knew that we had power hiked most of the race the year before, so I was counting on that to get me through. Five days before the race, I got word that my pacers (husband and wife) couldn’t make it. You see, she has bone cancer herself and was having issues; Her husband had to go out of town for work. I posted on Facebook that I needed a pacer, desperately. Mark, my Oil Creek rescuer, didn’t hesitate. He said that he was my man. Now, mind you, he does like 7 minute miles, so I was worried that he would be bored to death, but happily accepted.
The morning of the race, I was putting on my on my heart rate monitor in the hotel. It is really old and I thought something was wrong with it because it was reading so high. It suddenly occurred to me that maybe that’s why I was having dizzy spells; that my heart rate was artificially raised due to the radiation. I told Mark about it at the start line and he promised that we would keep a close eye on it. As it turned out, there was to be very little running, just to keep it under 140. At first I was able to run a little, downhill, but soon running was out of the question. I was also having issues with food. From the start I just plain didn’t feel like eating. Poor Mark was almost force feeding me the entire race. Afterwards, he said that I either had food in my hand or in my mouth (I was putting it in my cheek) for all but about two miles of the race.
Things were going pretty well even though my heart rate was high and I had no appetite. We just resolved ourselves that this was going to be a controlled power hike. Mark is a newer trail runner and was marveling at the beautiful single tracks that we were on. He also brought along Rocky, the ultra dog. Rocky was having a ball even though he wasn’t running. I was enjoying the distraction and Rocky was doing so well. Mark and I talked about so many things and it was nice to get a different perspective on life, relationships, training – we just talked and talked. Heck, he talks as much as I do, which is pretty hard to do! The time and miles were passing fairly quickly.
Once we got down into the “Enchanted Valley” I started worrying about Rocky getting up the “Root Climb”; a hand over hand climb, straight out of the valley, up a one story tangle of tree roots. I never should have worried, he got up it easier than the two of us. Had I thought about it, I would have recorded it on my phone; it was spectacular!
I got to about mile nineteen and something frightening happened. By this time, some of the faster marathoners were passing us. That was a nice distraction, especially when I knew them. Suddenly, without warning, I turned to the side of the trail and violently projectile vomited, three times. Now, vomiting while on the trail is nothing new or unusual for any of us, but the volume was. That told me that I wasn’t processing my calories or hydration properly. That was probably why I had no appetite and was struggling just to eat. I also put quite a show on for a group of marathoners coming up behind me. Mark said that he hadn’t seen something that spectacular since “keggers in college”!
I was about 23 or 24 miles into it and I was really starting to suffer. The heat was rising and due to the unseasonably cold spring, it was really beating me up (along with the myriad of other issues). I was also starting to have serious big toenail issues on both feet. I had gotten very quiet and Mark asked what I was thinking. I said “I don’t want to finish”. He decided to try to chat me up to get my mind off of my misery. At one point he said, “you’re not going on training, you’re not going on fuel, you are going on guts”. No truer words had been spoken. Soon we got to the campground and a group of my friend’s had a spot right next to the trail so they could cheer everyone on. I saw my good friend Mark Pancake. He started walking with me, while they fed my pacer a beer and his Rocky some water. Mark Pancake put his arm around me and walked down the trail with me. I rested my head on his shoulder, and with tears nearly welling up in my eyes, I told him that I wanted to quit. He said “nonsense, you will do this”. He sent me on my way and Mark and Rocky caught up to me. I was feeling very dejected, hot, and miserable. Shortly we got on a road section that I knew would take us to the start/finish line. I really wanted to quit, but I didn’t want to, as well. I wanted to show people that someone going through what I was going through, could do this. All of a sudden, I saw my boyfriend, Ed walking our way carrying an ice cold bottle of Gatorade. When he handed it to me, I busted out in tears. I think I scared poor Mark to death.
We got to the mile 27 aid station and I decided I better see the podiatrist. As expected, both toenails were trashed. One had a huge blood blister under one of the nails and just a regular blister under the other. They had to lance and drain the one with the blood blister. Once bandaged, and the shoe put back on, I could barely walk. I wanted so badly to quit right then and there, but a fire started burning inside of me. I now knew that I wasn’t going to finish, but I knew that I had to prove to myself that despite all of the issues I was having, that I had the courage to walk out of that aid station and start the next loop. I asked my boyfriend if he was going to be at The Gorge, which was the next aid station, five miles away. He hadn’t been planning on it but I asked him to be there. I don’t know if Mark knew that it was the beginning of the end, but he had stopped hounding me about eating. All I could think about was sitting down, that’s never a good sign.
As we approached the Gorge at mile 32, I could see my good friend, Dan Bellinger, from Cleveland. I was smiling as I cruised in. I loudly announced that I was dropping. I was in very good spirits and didn’t look much like someone who was ready to drop! I really wanted to quit on a high note. My toes were trashed and I knew the upcoming hills would be murder. I also knew that on the back half of the course, it’s harder to drop due to no crew access. I just felt it was time. Not one person tried to talk me into continuing. I took that as a sign as well. Could I have gone further? Yes. Should I? That was questionable. Some may have questioned whether I should have started in the first place.
In retrospect, I’m glad I did this race. It was good to feel “normal”. I believe I did the right things; getting a pacer, using the HRM, having my boyfriend at the aid stations that he was allowed, letting others know what was going on. I’m bummed that I didn’t finish and get that medal, but when I dropped I was still on an 18 hour pace, which would have been a PR of 49 minutes from the previous year! I had fun and I felt like I accomplished an amazing feat!
Only those who risk going too far can possibly know how far they can go. TS Eliot